Transformational Leaders


Graça Simbine Machel
Graca Machel, World Economic Forum on Africa 2010Photo by World Economic Forum CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Graça Machel has been involved on an international scale in campaigning for women’s and children’s rights. She served as the First Lady of both Mozambique and South Africa – the only woman to have been First Lady in 2 countries. Over the years, Graça Machel has gained international recognition for her achievements. Her many awards include the Laureate of Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger from the Hunger Project in 1992 and in 1995, the Nansen Medal in recognition of her contribution to the welfare of refugee children. She has also received the Inter Press Service’s (IPS) International Achievement Award for her work on behalf of children internationally, the Africare Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award and the North-South Prize of the Council of Europe, amongst many others. Today Graça Machel is the founding member, together with her late husband, Mr. Nelson Mandela, of The Elders – a committee of leaders from around the world dedicated to tackling humanities toughest challenges. She also continutes to advocate for good governance, human rights and development in Africa.


Quote: “Therefore my challenge to each of you … is that you ask yourself what you can do to make a difference. And then take that action, no matter how large or how small. For our children have a right to peace.”


Mother Teresa
MotherTeresa_090Photo by Túrelio CC-BY-SA-2.0-de Mother Teresa was known for her work helping those suffering from severe levels of poverty in India. Of Albanian descent, she adopted Indian citizenship, and established the Order of the Missionaries Charity, which was a congregation consisting of women who were committed to assisting the poor. She was instrumental in initiatives to serve the blind, disabled, and elderly, and established a colony for lepers and a centre for the terminally ill.


Quote: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other”

Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi_

Photo by Kjell Jøran Hansen CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Aung San Suu Kyi is a political activist struggling for democracy and the enforcement of human rights in Burma. She helped found the National League for Democracy, and has spent 15 years under house arrest, refusing to leave the country even when offered freedom on exchange for leaving. She has been inspired by Buddhist concepts of peace as well as Mahatma Gandhi’s approach of non-violence.


Quote: “My attitude to peace is rather based on the Burmese definition of peace – it really means removing all the negative factors that destroy peace in this world. So peace does not mean just putting an end to violence or to war, but to all other factors that threaten peace, such as discrimination, such as inequality, poverty.”


Rigoberta Menchú
Rigoberta Menchu

Photo by Agencia de Noticias ANDESCC BY-SA 2.0

Rigoberta Menchú, an indigenous Guatemalan, has been active in promoting the rights of indigenous populations in Guatemala. Among her efforts was her campaigning against the human rights abuses that were committed during the Guatemalan Civil War by the armed forces. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “in recognition of her work for social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples”


Quote: “I think that nonviolence is one way of saying that there are other ways to solve problems, not only through weapons and war. Nonviolence also means the recognition that the person on one side of the trench and the person on the other side of the trench are both human beings, with the same faculties. At some point they have to begin to understand one another”

Shirin Ebadi
FS_Shirin EbadiPhoto by Rototom Sunsplash CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Shirin Ebadi has worked in Iran as an activist promoting democracy and human rights, especially in relation to women and children. She is a lawyer, who was a judge until conservative Islamic proponents declared women ineligible for such positions. She believed and fought for an understanding of Islam that is consistent with equality and democracy, and was motivated by the conviction that reform in Iran should be a peaceful process.


Quote: “Whenever women protest and ask for their rights, they are silenced with the argument that the laws are justified under Islam. It is an unfounded argument. It is not Islam at fault, but rather the patriarchal culture that uses its own interpretations to justify whatever it wants.”

Wangari Maathai
Wangari Maathai Inducted as UN Messenger of PeacePhoto by Africa Renewal CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Wangari Maathai was a Kenyan woman who fought for women’s rights, environmental rights, sustainable development and democracy. She established the Green Belt Movement that promotes the planting of trees, conservation and capacity building for women. She also served as a member of parliament, and “stood up courageously against the former oppressive regime in Kenya”. She was the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, “for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace”, with the Norwegian Nobel Committee stating that she also “served as inspiration for many in the fight for democratic rights and has especially encouraged women to better their situation.”


Quote: “African women in general need to know that it’s OK for them to be the way they are – to see the way they are as a strength, and to be liberated from fear and from silence.”


Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia)
Canada2020 with Josee Verner, Frank McKenna, Salman Rushdie, Tim Flannery, Chris Anderson, Shaun Graham, President Ellen Johnson SirleafPhoto by Canada 2020 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the President of Liberia, and the first female head of state in Africa. She founded a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to tackle the legacy left by the 20 years of internal conflict in Liberia, in order to “promote national peace, security, unity and reconciliation“. She was promoted women’s rights and involvement in peacebuilding processes.


Quote: “All girls know that they can be anything now. That transformation is to me one of the most satisfying things.”

Leymah Gbowee (Liberia)
gbowee_141029_01_sz.jpgPhoto by UCI UC Irvine CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Leymah Gbowee is a Liberian activist for women’s rights, who spearheaded the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement, which was instrumental in bringing an end to the civil war and brought about the peaceful elections which saw Ellen Johnson Sirleaf elected as president. The movement started among women in a fish market, where Gbowee brought together Christian and Muslim women alike, and women from different ethnicities to campaign non-violently for peace.


Quote: “The Liberian women peace movement demonstrated to the world that grassroots movements are essential to sustaining peace; that women in leadership positions are effective brokers for peace; and the importance of culturally relevant social justice movements. Liberia’s experience is a good example to the world that women—especially African women—can be drivers of peace”


Malala Yousafzai (Pakistan)
MalalaPhoto by Statsministerens Kontor CC BY-ND 2.0 Malala Yousafzai is the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate ever, receiving the award at the age of 17 for her courageous activism to defend the rights of girls to access education. In her local community girls were regularly banned from attending school by the Taliban, who blew up over 100 girls’ schools. After agreeing to kill her, the Taliban shot her in an attempted assassination at the age of 15, which she survived. Her activism sparked international attention and stimulated a worldwide movement in support of her cause.


Quote: “I raise up my voice-not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”


Audre Lorde
Audre LordePhoto by K. Kendall CC BY 2.0 Audre Lorde was a Caribbean-American, who used writing and poetry to draw attention to the dynamics of being a lesbian, a feminist, and black: “Let me tell you first about what it was like being a Black woman poet … It meant being invisible… It meant being doubly invisible as a Black feminist woman and it meant being triply invisible as a Black lesbian and feminist”.She advocated for the rights of lesbian and gay individuals, and was an active feminist who critiqued the white feminist movement that considered black, lesbian feminists as counter-normative, and therefore marginalized their experiences. This critique was a pre-curser to today’s intersectionality discussion that highlights the importance of integrating the differing experience of women of different classes, ethnicities and sexual orientations.


Quote: “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”


Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera
Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera is a leading activist for LGBT rights in Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal and heavily criminalized to the point that even those who fail to report knowledge of homosexuals are at risk of imprisonment. She founded the organization Freedom & Roam Uganda to address these injustices, and is involved in a project called Reclaiming the Media, which seeks to expose Ugandans to the struggles of the LGBTI community in the hope that it will lead to the overthrowing of oppressive policies.

David Kato Kisule
David Kato KisulePhoto by Abolire la miseria della Calabria CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

David Kato Kisule was an instrumental member of the Ugandan LGBT rights movement, who openly identified as gay and fought for the acceptance of the LGBT community. The Ugandan magazine Rolling Stone listed him, along with others thought to be homosexual, under the title ‘hang them’, which he and others identified by the paper responded to with a petition to ban the article. The lawsuit was successful, but he was murdered soon afterwards in an attack largely suspected to be because of his sexual orientation.



Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma
President Jacob Zuma  at the signing ceremony of the Peace, SecuPhoto by GovernmentZA CC BY-ND 2.0 Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma is a South African politician and former anti-apartheid activist. She was South Africa’s Minister of Health from 1994 to 1999, under President Nelson Mandela, then Minister of Foreign Affairs from 17 June 1999 to 10 May 2009, under presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Molanthe. On July 15th 2012, Dr. Dlamini-Zuma was elected by the African Union Commission as its chairperson, making her the first woman to lead the organisation (including its predecessor, the Organisation of the African Union) 


Nadine Gordimer
Nadine GordimerPhoto by Bengt Oberger CC BY 3.0 Nadine Gordimer (20 November 1923 – 13 July 2014) was a South African writer and political activist. She was recognized as a woman “who through her magnificent epic writing has – in the words of Alfred Nobel – been of very great benefit to humanity”. In 1991 Nadine Gordimer became the first South African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Her first novel, The Lying Days, was published in 1953. Since then she has published thirteen more novels, many short stories and other works of non-fiction. Her work has been translated into thirty-one languages; she has received honorary doctorates from fifteen academic institutions and was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.


Quote: “The truth isn’t always beauty, but the hunger for it is.”



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